Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Staying Sharp

Don’t people do anything for themselves anymore?

Last night as I was putting away the food processor after having made a batch of fake sour cream I realized the blade needed sharpening.
The carrots and beets are due in from the garden soon and they need to be frozen. Chopping is part of the deal and the sharper the blade the better the result.
So I did what I have doing for more than 40 years -- I got a sharpening stone and did it myself.

I have two such stones. They’re flat and gray and originally belonged to my late Uncle Gil, a dentist. They were part of his dental tools. I don’t know whether he got newer, better ones or what, but he didn’t need these particular stones any longer so he gave them to my dad when I was eight.

Dad showed me how to sharpen a knife shortly thereafter and I took to it. It’s fun and it’s satisfying. I have a great sense of accomplishment from turning a dull blade into a fine edge in a matter of moments.

When I was 10 dad gave me one of the stones and I’ve always had it with me. I’ve kept the knives keen wherever I lived.

But once I did let things go. One day in the latter part of the 1990s my parents were visiting for Thanksgiving and dad set about chopping the ingredients for the stuffing.

I was busy close by when I heard a kind, if disappointed, voice, “Leah, this knife is terribly dull.”


Dad put the edge on that knife for me, but never again have I let any knife under my care get dull.

I have his sharpening stone now too and I have no clue which was whose, but I was using one of them yesterday when I wondered how many other people would do this themselves?
Many people sharpen their own knives though it’s unlikely that many of them use a dental stone to do it
But a blade on a food processor? No, I bet that gets sent out to a pro.

My guess is the chief difference between me and the pro is technique. The pro likely does a downward pass on one side of the blade then flips it over and does a pass on the other side and continues back and forth until done.
I do one side at a time and use an up and down motion. It’s what my dad did, and it’s how he taught me to do it, and my edges can carve a translucent slice from a ripe tomato.

I also wondered if people know it’s okay to sharpen a serrated-edged knife? If one side is flat, you sharpen the flat side. It’s that simple.

Taking care of knives is also simple, but like so many simple things in life we’ve surrendered them to the pros because we’ve forgotten that we can do it ourselves.


The Bag Lady said...

Leah - I'm so glad to hear that you are still using Dad's stones! I believe it was a family trait to keep the knives sharp - I can remember as a child watching Uncle Oscar sharpen a knife for Aunt Kay. He used a steel rather than a dental stone, but I was fascinated by how quickly and efficiently he worked. If I tried his method, I'd probably be minus a finger at the very least! But everytime I sharpen one of my knives, I think of him. It's the little things like this that keep us all connected as family, don't you think?

Crabby McSlacker said...

So this sounds dumb, but it never occurred to me I could do more than use the little round metal thingy that they give you when you buy an assortment of knives, which doesn't work for very long. Then I thought you had to take the knives to a professional! Or, as happens in our house, curse the knives for being dull but not do anything about it except saw at things harder. I'll have to keep an eye out for a sharpening stone!

Leah J. Utas said...

Hey Bag Lady - firstly, love that sign in! Secondly, dad always said Uncle Oscar had a talent for sharpening knives and that people came from miles around to have him sharpen their knives. He thought they took advantage of Oscar.
Say, do you have your own dental stones? And why did your dad give them to my dad? Do you recall?

Crabby - If you ever find a sharpening stone such as dentists used to use, get it. I can't imagine you ever regretting the purchase.

Reb said...

Oh, I think that is cool that you are using Dad's stones. I have one, but haven't used it in such a long time, I am not sure I remember how. I have wiltshire knives that come in a block each with their own sharpener, but, I think it is almost time to start doing them by hand.
I once worked with a fellow that one Christmas was using a steel and the knife slipped! Cut right down to the bone on his thumb. Sorry, too graphic?
I am not surprised that ppl don't sharpen, they don't repair anything either - from mending clothes to getting a toaster fixed. We are living in a throw away world, which is so sad to see.

Leah J. Utas said...

Reb- I'm sure it'll come back to you once you use it.
I don't care for the knives that sharpen as you take them out. I'd rather do it myself and know its edge personally.

Reb and Bag Lady - I treasure those stones. I wish I had the finishing stone your dad gave my dad but I haven't seen it in more than 30 years.